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BRITISH mining giant Vedanta “has a duty of care” to nearly 2,000 Zambian farmers who say their water supply was poisoned by a subsidiary of the company, the Supreme Court heard today.
Vedanta Resources is being blamed for turning Zambia’s longest river bright blue with pollution, but the London-based company claims the farmers cannot seek compensation through the English courts.
The farmers filed suit in London after facing major obstacles to justice in Zambian courts. They say their land has been ruined by toxic waste spewing from a pit run by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), Vedanta’s subsidiary.
Richard Hermer QC, representing the farmers, told the court today that the mine is “churning out toxic waste a thousand times over the levels it’s supposed to be, while Vedanta undoubtedly knows about it.”
Mr Hermer argued there was “20 years of case law in which parent companies have been found capable of owing duties to people impacted by their subsidiaries.”
He said Vedanta’s appeared to have accepted this in publications where it is alleged to have said: “Our board is ultimately responsible.”
He showed the court Vedanta’s corporate social responsibility documents, in which the company apparently takes credit for replacing a smelter at a KCM site in Zambia to reduce environmental impact.
Vedanta is also alleged to have developed a central unit to deal with sustainability issues, suggesting that the British parent company accepted that it was responsible for the environmental impact of its Zambian subsidiary.
Samarendra Das, a campaigner with environmental group Foil Vedanta, told the Morning Star that the case centred on “whether the UK is the best forum to hear and decide claims of gross human rights violations committed abroad.”
Mr Das explained that “British-domicile companies do not dispute the fact that there is, at least, claims to be decided against their own subsidiaries operating abroad."
He said: “This shows a gap in the governance of British-registered companies by the British authorities that, despite the rhetorical commitment, no proper mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that those UK companies monitor and control their business activities abroad.”
He noted that Vedanta “enjoyed signifiant profits and tax concessions” while registered in London.
The two-day hearing at the Supreme Court concluded today and a judgement is expected in April.
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